England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

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Mary, who was no one’s.

I came across this article by a friend of a friend, and wanted to share. Her perspective is challenging, thought-provoking, and crucial to how we look at mercy and justice in the world today. It’s the Christmas story told another way. The story is still alive. It will move you.

The Rule and the Raven

While I was in Europe at a conference recently, I found myself witness to something most terrible. A witness to violence.

I walked down a cobbled street on a gray morning, and three people ahead of me were screaming at each other. A man and a woman yelled until their voices cracked, and a second woman stood with them. The verbal combat spiraled furiously between the two who shouted, and I approached as the man pressed himself close to the woman, forcing her backward as all those hidden instincts to express power through physical space played themselves out between them.

They screamed in French. Their voices were too broken for me to understand exactly what they said.

I walked directly between them, coldly breaking the invisible field of combat, and I glared straight into the man’s anger-darkened face. I tried to fill my eyes with every ounce of contempt that…

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A Note to Angry Preachers

To the guy in front of Cooper Hall, disturbing the peace after class.

Eyes and ears seize you

Branding my baby Earth with your gospel of hate.

God sends rain

But you,

Self-elected emissary of some Satan in the sky,

You cremate

The dead bodies of love, of mercy

They languish on the ground as I pass

by–

Yes, goodbye!

By the sickening slick of your own poison

You will die.

Whom shall you convince?

Scorching heat of your stunted spirit

To think that I would dream of coming near it.

Festering sores

“GOD HATES YOU AND YOURS”

Hey, mister

Oh-so-sinister so untrue

Every day, with

Every Damn Thing I Say,

I triumph over you.

I will be the anti-hate

Breathe life into the love

You suffocate.

I am the rain, and you are a liar.

Watch me vanquish fire.

Sunrise on a Saturday

She sat on top of the hill and thought about how the grass was sticking her through the fabric of her jeans. She thought about how grass just kind of is and there’s nothing much more she could think about it, except that it was nice for the most part, although a little too prickly to lay down her head.

And she thought about how, if she tugged up a cluster of blades and yanked them straight out of the ground, no one but her and the neighboring grass would ever know.

Sometimes she wished she was like that, surrounded by neighbors but somehow insignificant all the same, so that blades of failure and a sharp stab of loneliness could be uprooted, without question or consequence, making way for a new blade of hope without a sound.

She startles, and stares up at the sky. Dawn is breaking, and with her hands cupped together she offers up a prayer of thanks like a paper crane. And just like that, gratitude flies on white wings up toward morning.

Finding Authenticity in an Ersatz Reality

A friend recently sent me an article about our culture’s obsession with authenticity. My first thought was that the Western world doesn’t actually strike me as that authentic: we live pretty leisurely lives and we tend to justify what we like without figuring out what is actually real or pure in a world where what we think about something matters more than the thing itself.

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...

As I kept reading, I found a key idea buried about halfway down the article: that “we can no longer perceive what we claim to value.” Authenticity could be staring us in the face, but if we recognize it at all we are left with only a vague idea that we’re missing something we desperately wanted and needed. We understand, unconsciously, in some dark part of our souls, that we can’t be certain of our own individual or collective authenticity of being or purpose.

It’s not a question of art. It’s a question of who we are.

In other words, this new wave of criticism and desperate searching for authenticity reflected in art and entertainment culture is symptomatic of and merely a modern manifestation of the gap between what we know and the fact of our existing, a gap which necessitates an infinite gulf of knowledge and meaning we kind of know we can never swim through.

I think art and life are the same things, really, just that art is a single moment stolen out of life and time. I also think that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Not in the sense of a conventional chicken and egg dilemma, of which comes first, but in the sense that life is never understood by multiple people to be exactly the same thing. It’s beautiful to some, stupid to others, gratifying to many, and how you live it is often a matter of taste and privilege.

In reference to this article, life and art are intertwined throughout the pages of human history. Moving through the realism and purity of renaissance art, through the impressionism of the 1700s and 1800s, into the surrealism and now “modern art” which is more often than not a conglomeration of abstract shapes and lines, art reflects the tide of human belief as a whole.

Abstract and modern art is consistent with the postmodern and existential schools of thought currently dominating the Western world. They say we know only what we know, empirically, or what we can prove by watching the process from beginning to end and then repeating it exactly.

Something that looks like nothing is just as authentic and valuable today as something that depicts reality exactly…as long as it was supposed to look like nothing, and in its nothingness makes us think of something. Because atheism, humanism, existentialism, etc., any acceptance of a sort of infinite nothing beyond what may have temporal value, leaves us without any sort of ultimate standard by which to judge authenticity: in our selves, our lives, our art, or our coffee shops. Without a standard by which to judge authenticity, how can we possibly discover a true identity? How can we know who we are? That’s why we criticize what we deem inauthentic, what we fear might be cheap mockery. The idea that life might imitate this inauthentic art is far too terrifying to behold.

We are hungry for authenticity. It is at heart a hunger for meaning, for there to be something beyond the sum total of human struggle and triumph.

Check out the original article here:

So I got in a car wreck yesterday.

As I sped toward catastrophe, completely unable to prevent the collision, I didn’t have any major breakthroughs. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I didn’t meet God. My thoughts were oh shit, oh shit, and oh shit, and it wasn’t until I had pulled off the road into a parking lot that I even took stock of the damage– the fate of the possibly injured other driver and the state of my own crumpled car (which will cost more to repair than it’s even worth).

I didn’t cry and I didn’t tremble. The other driver called the cops, I called my insurance and my dad. And then I got out and leaned against my car and I felt the afternoon. I felt the sun on my face and the asphalt beneath my feet and the tree branches waving in the breeze like they were my own arms. I stared through the hedgerow beside me at the busy street. I didn’t process anything other than the fact that the world was moving, full of sound and energy and soft yellow light.

Can panic and peace coexist? Maybe so.

Then the cop came, and by the grace of God he was one of the nicest men I’ve ever encountered. In a place where I was at fault and feeling unmoored, I was met with a kindness so deep I am certain I didn’t deserve it.

My head still hurts a little and I spent a lot of today resting. It kind of shocks you, to realize that sometimes you just can’t react fast enough to prevent something that was already set in motion. In that moment, I lost everything I could control. I lost every ounce of power over what was about to happen to me. I didn’t even remember to pray until after it happened.

But I am fine. Repeat: I lost any and all control over my life for a few eternal moments, and I am fine.

I don’t know why I was protected that day, when so many other people have lost their lives in almost identical situations. It’s a question I can’t answer. But I do know, now more than ever, that my life does not belong to me. It’s a wild and beautiful vitality born long before me, already spinning into a far distant future I will never see.

An Icelandic artist named Bjork once said that all is full of love. She said that we’ll be taken care of, that it might not come from the sources we would expect, but that we have to trust it all the same.

It’s been my experience that I am pretty damn limited in my ability to see and understand these sources. I know several people who don’t feel able to see or believe in them at all. I don’t think it changes the fact that all is full of love. We will be taken care of.

Say Yes to Yoga

I do yoga almost every day.

I’m convinced that these 50 minutes of Zen prevent panic attacks, muscle stiffness, irritability and other symptoms I generally associate with family reunions. Something about communicating with my body and pushing myself without pain makes me feel like life may not actually be so hard.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Forbes, I now have the science to understand why. Yoga has virtually infinite impact on a practitioner’s physiology. It impacts the body’s regulation of cortisol, endorphins and serotonin—all those nifty chemicals in your brain that can either make you happy or screw you over completely.

I’m for the first option. Practicing yoga regularly changes the body’s sympathetic nervous system  (this is the system in charge of our stress response). Because of whacked out modern schedules that often tamper with our bodies’ natural rhythms, the stress response can stay in the “on” position for hours at a time. Yoga helps your body realizes that there is still peace to be found. It can also keep the parasympathetic nervous system in tip-top shape, which means that your body will absorb nutrients better, eliminate more toxins and improve circulation.

And thus Western science proves what Eastern medicine has known for thousands of years. Do yourself a favor. Do some yoga.

If you are so inspired, consider running a free yoga clinic for battered women and children in your area. I did this several years ago and the results were life-changing for me as well as the participants. For people who have experienced far too much stress and pain to even comprehend, yoga can provide a physical, mental and emotional healing unsurpassed even by medicine and counseling. Give peace by putting the restorative power of yoga in someone’s own hands.

EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2011/06/16/penetrating-postures-the-science-of-yoga/

Drink Deep, and Don’t Stop Dreaming

There is probably little to no prior record of an all-nighter spent in a campus library producing goodwill toward anyone or anything. But this morning, as November brings a chill to even the Florida sunrise, there is hope.

Below is a list of things I have experienced that remind me what life is actually for. It’s for you, too: an exhortation to shake yourself out of your exhaustion and your disillusionment and thank today for coming to greet you.

Today, you have the chance:

To walk into the night under a foreign sky with familiar stars

To jump off a cliff head first and feel the world rush up to meet you

To know a name on every continent and “friend” in fifteen languages

To work hard and feel the realized ambition raise you up

To leave behind lovers, and friends, and family, who never really leave you at all

But surround you in the cocoon of a phone call

To sit on evening porches and talk about life and philosophy and thought and all the ideas

And dreamers who went before you

To see that we dream the same dreams and that they can still

Take you places

To laugh in the face of fear when

You don’t understand at all, what the hell is going on here

To smile and shout from a thousand feet up

To feel the pressure of the ocean when you swim deep below

To be swept away in a passion so exquisite and painful it leaves you at the precipice of

Finality and contentment

To feel the chasm of grief and loss and hang on to belief and be

Free.

To look back on your life and see that it was all poetry

And there will always be another human being, a God to understand

This elusive “me”

To jump from planes and sit in strange cafes and alleyways and see

Your soul in a painting made by a man years before you breathed

To cry in anguish into the night and then watch the sun rise

To shine like light itself when a child reaches up to your face

To know what it took to get you here

To remember and hold the universe inside your heart

To cherish every quiet shrieking resounding wavering solid yes and no

To hold and let go

To be left breathless.

Drink deep.

Inspiration from the Breadbasket

Two days ago I was privileged to take part in my first-ever Twitter chat with the lovely Kathryn Budig. Originally from my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Kathryn has transformed her passion for yoga into a career that encompasses the world. She’s hosted yoga retreats and workshops from Florida to New Zealand, and recently put out an “Aim True” yoga DVD with giant fitness retailer Gaiam.

In partnership with ZICO coconut water (which, alas, I have never tried), Kathryn talked with fans and fellow practitioners for an hour.  Mostly I was just stoked to have an actual almost-real-life conversation with one of my idols. Kathryn, it must be said, is the rock star of the yoga world. And she’s from Kansas! KANSAS!

Throughout the chat, she answered questions ranging from technical yoga advice to the spiritual side of one’s practice. I started to realize what a fabulous marketing opportunity this was for ZICO—associating themselves with someone like Kathryn and making her accessible to thousands of fans, driving all of these potential customers to ZICO’s Twitter page—that is some serious public relations. ZICO’s brand was completely unknown to me prior to this encounter. By the end of the chat, I found myself looking up the flavors of coconut water they offered,  the nutritional content and where I could purchase the beverage. I have yet to actually try the stuff, but if Kathryn Budig likes it…

In all seriousness, it was an amazing experience to ask personal questions of someone I admire so deeply and receive instant direct responses. I have a newfound respect for Twitter as a mechanism for bringing people together, publicly and professionally, who would otherwise never have the opportunity to learn from each other and exchange information.

Kathryn really is doing some pretty cool things. If you think you might be even remotely interested in yoga, check out her website at www.kathrynbudig.com. I’ve never seen this austere and esoteric discipline made so accessible. She’s garnered quite the global following, and rightly so.

Pretty impressive for a girl from the little town of Lawrence.

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World

Read Me: 20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world | Matador Network.

life and language

It’s been awhile, but CLASH is back in action for the spring semester. I thought we’d kick things off with an exploration of language, which is, in its purest manifestation, an expression of what it means to be human and to desire connection with one another.

I remember my first experience with new words in Spanish. As native English speakers, we’re used to one word meaning one thing, and to words that (usually) maintain quite literal meanings in context. In Spanish, language doesn’t work this way. My favorite of all Spanish words is “desahogarse.” In reality, it means to tell a friend about all your problems, to share your struggles and your triumphs with somebody else…an unburdening, if you will.

But literally? “Desahogarse” means ‘to undrown oneself.’ Because that’s really what language does. It allows us to invite other people into our existence, into the poignancy of pain and beauty that lets us know we are truly alive. When we share our stories, we start swimming toward the surface of our silent, solitary sea.

These words have been classified as untranslatable. Some are funny, some are sad. But all of them rang true for me in their emotional and situational sincerity. My guess is that they’ll ring true for you, too, regardless of where you’re from or what language you speak.

To me, that is the ultimate translation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

LEARN a new language

TRAVEL around the world

TALK to people from other countries

RESEARCH current events and crises

READ translations from other languages

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